Monday, June 08, 2009

Maine ax murder histories

Maine's own prolific writer of historical accounts of mysteries, Emeric Spooner, has just made an appearance in the Lewiston Sun Journal. In the article, he talks about his latest book, Return to Smuttynose Island, and Other Maine Axe Murders.

Unfortunately, the article went to press with some inaccuracies. Spooner pointed out that in fact the Hallowell axe murders of the Purington family cost the lives of Mrs. Purington and 7 of her 8 children, not 6 as reported in the story. (NOTE: We have previously reported on this event. If you are interested in learning about these historic Maine murders, please click here to read more.)

In addition, the article mentions that Spooner put "six months of research" into the book, when in fact the research spanned at least two years, involving the equivalent of six months of full-time labor.

Read on!
Weird, Wicked Weird: Murders most foul
By Lindsay Tice , Staff Writer
Saturday, June 6, 2009 05:00 am

They're grisly murders, chilling in their details and gruesome for the weapon of choice: an ax.

And not the rarity in Maine you might think.

"It was unbelievable how many," said Emeric Spooner, a Bucksport librarian and amateur investigator with a penchant for historical crimes. "They didn't even bother solving them. They just, like, found a guy dead in the barn, his head split open, and that was it. Mostly around Augusta and Gardiner and that area. All in the 1800s."

There were hundreds, by Spooner's count.

"I guess because axes were handy, and they didn't want to waste a bullet, they just started swinging," he said. "It was shocking. It was everywhere."

Spooner began looking into Maine's 19th-century ax murders last year, when he finished investigating the 1898 unsolved murder of 52-year-old Bucksport divorcée Sarah Ware. He wrote about Ware's murder on his Web site, Maine Supernatural, and in a self-published book, "In Search of Sarah Ware."

Soon after finishing with Ware's murder - he came to believe a local businessman who had been acquitted of the crime was involved - Spooner began looking into other centuries-old unsolved crimes. He began with the 1806 ax murders of a Hallowell mother and six of her children by her husband, James Purington.

Spooner had stumbled upon the crime while he was researching Ware. He spent a month researching, digging through old newspaper articles and a coroner's inquest. He turned up some intriguing details - two murder weapons, a bloody handprint over the fireplace, a 17-year-old son who was slightly injured but not killed - but those details weren't enough to fill the new book he'd been envisioning.

So Spooner began looking at other Maine ax murders. Eventually, Purington and two others would be featured in Spooner's book.

On a cold winter night in 1873, on tiny Smuttynose Island on the Maine-New Hampshire border, two sisters were murdered by someone wielding an ax. A third sister barely escaped, fleeing into the nearby woods until help arrived. The motive: robbery.
Later in 1873, another Maine man, John Gordon, was accused of murdering his brother, his brother's wife and their infant daughter with an ax while they slept in their Thorndike home. He was also accused of taking an ax to his brother's young son, who survived, and attempting to burn down the house to cover his crime. The motive: inheritance of the family farm and retaliation for a series of disparaging letters that his brother's wife sent to his fiancée.
Although the three gruesome ax murders happened 67 years apart, one thing tied them all together: questions about the killer's identity.

Was the 17-year-old survivor of the 1806 Hallowell murders involved in the attacks on his family? Was it the third Smuttynose Island sister - and not Wagner - who wielded the ax that winter night in 1873? Did someone other than Gordon kill the young family while they slept in Thorndike?
But he also believes that it's possible the Hallowell father wasn't the only one attacking his family in 1806. Two weapons, an ax and a straight razor, were used that night, Spooner said. To him, that points to two killers.

And the 17-year-old who survived had only minor injuries.

"There are questions," Spooner said. "If I was there, I would have brought them up."

He brings them up now. Then lets readers decide.

Spooner's self-published book, "A Return to Smuttynose Island and Other Maine Axe Murders," is being sold on He dedicates the book to the 13 victims and their families.

Done with the ax-murder research, Spooner, 39, considered looking into New England strangulation cases. It's an urge he's fighting.

"I don't want to be known as the murder guy," he said.

On the other hand, some cases are too fascinating to walk away from.

"I'm still compiling everything I can," he said.

Read the full article here: [Source]
Copies of the book can be purchased through You can peruse the Maine Supernatural website, with additional material related to the book, at

Below you will find one of the accompanying videos, with interview footage, and more!


Regattamom said...

The Hallowell murder of the Purington family is chronicled in "A Midwives Tale" by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1991.

Michelle said...

Hi Regattamom! It certainly is (we mention it in prior posts we've made about the Purington family).

Great read, that!

Anonymous said...

My uncle waS MURDERED in Boothbay Harbor in the 1960's by an axe his name was William Farnham he was sleeping when Dewight Greenleaf took an axe to his head repeadedly .I was 15yrs old, but it was awful. My uncle never heart a flea. I loved him very much. My father never got over it.